July was a busy month for manga publishers in North America, with two major pop culture shows only 2 weeks apart: Anime Expo, which focuses on Japanese pop culture, took place in Los Angeles, and Comic-Con International in San Diego. The two shows both attracted huge crowds of fans and pros -- Anime Expo reported 115,726 unique attendees, an increase of 15% over 2016. San Diego Comic-Con regularly attracts over 130,000+ attendees.
But while many manga publishers had large, flashy booths in the Los Angeles Convention Center exhibit hall, several companies (with the exception of Viz Media and Dark Horse) had a much smaller presence in SDCC, including Yen Press, which opted out of having a Comic-Con booth after many years of exhibiting. Several publishers, including Digital Manga, Fakku, TokyoPop, NetComics, webtoons publisher Lezhin and ebook site BookWalker only exhibited at Anime Expo.
“For a lot of us, Anime Expo was two weeks before San Diego Comic-Con, and it’s rapidly becoming almost as big as Comic-Con,” said JuYoun Lee, deputy publisher and editor-in-chief of Yen Press. “Anime Expo has more of a focus on manga than Comic-Con, so that’s why we made most of our new title announcements and promotions there.”
“It also costs us less to attend Anime Expo, and less for fans to attend that show too” said Erik Ko, chief of operations at Udon Entertainment. “It’s a totally different vibe.”
“We’ve definitely shifted our strategy over the years, said Leyla Aker, senior v-p of publishing at Viz Media. “Especially at big comics shows like San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic-Con, people aren’t really coming to the booth to buy books so much as they’re coming for an experience – to take their pictures with their favorite characters, or win prizes.”
Also notable: The absence of any major manga creators from Japan as guests this year at SDCC.
“10-12 years ago, we used to bring 2-3 guests from Japan, and we’d bring some pretty big names, like Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf and Cub) to Comic-Con. But now, it’s hard to get heard over the pop culture noise [at San Diego]” said Michael Gombos, Director of International Licensing at Dark Horse Comics.
By comparison, Anime Expo welcomed a wide array of fan-favorite creators from Japan. Visiting artists, included Yuto Tsukuda, the co-creator of Shonen Jump manga series Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, as well as Akira Himekawa (a.k.a. A. Honda and S. Nagano), the artists of the Legend of Zelda; both published by Viz. Kodansha Comics spotlighted Yumi Sukemune, the editor of best-selling romantic comedy series, Princess Jellyfish.
Publishers reported brisk sales at both Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con, with many preview offerings and exclusive collectibles selling out early at their respective booths. Hot sellers included Viz Media’s new Death Note all-in-one hardcover edition, reissued to coincide with the upcoming live-action adaptation of the series that will debut on Netflix in late August. Kodansha took pre-orders for the 35th anniversary box set of the manga sci-fi classic AKIRA, which is due to hit the shelves for the Holiday 2017 season.
Most of the big manga licensing announcements were made at Anime Expo, with Seven Seas Entertainment, Viz Media, Yen Press, Vertical, Kodansha Comics, and Crunchyroll Manga announcing over 34 new manga series. In addition there were deals for 10 prose novels/light novels, picture books and simulpub (Japanese and English) releases for print and digital release, with Yen Press accounting for over 20 of these titles. By comparison, only a handful of new titles were announced at Comic-Con.
Hardcover editions and box sets are also on the way, many in time for Holiday 2017, including the luxe Pandora Hearts box set from Yen Press, and new hardcover 2-in-1 omnibus editions of Battle Angel Alita, from Kodansha Comics. New hardcover editions of Fullmetal Alchemist are also coming soon from Viz Media.
The growing popularity and growth of Anime Expo—for fans and publishers—is just the latest example of the North American manga industry on the rebound. The manga publishing business in North America looks like it’s enjoying its time in the sun once more.